Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Real History: When the Sahara was Green

If you're inclined to have adventures outside of Sundaland in the period 15,000 to 5,000 years ago then North Africa would be a very interesting setting. You could play characters that flee Sundaland when the floods start and travel to Africa to seed a new civilisation.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Real History: Texts That Give Insights Into Ancient Day To Day Life

I've found some of articles about texts that give an insight into day to day life in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. These provide great inspiration for how to approach a Bronze age setting.

From: The Oldest Known Customer Complaint Found on Mesopotamia’s Clay Tablet [1750 BC]

The oldest known customer complaint gives us an insight into trade and commerce. Copper ingots were necessary for creating bronze and it seems that the goods provided were not of high enough quality. 

It talks about messengers being used to communicate between both parties and how they have to travel through dangerous territory. There is some form of money involved, though it probably wasn't in the form of coins. A mina is a unit of weight and money can take different forms besides currency (coins and notes). There's also a mention of the administrative function of a temple where some kind of contracts are stored. In these societies religious institutions had various functions besides worship.
When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”
What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. 
Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and Sumi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Shamash. 
How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full. 
Take cognisance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.
The article  also points out that the letter was dictated to a scribe. It starts with "Tell Ea-Nasir: Nanni sends the following message". Remember that literacy is rare in these times, so scribes have an important function in society.

From: You will be Surprised by Knowing the Visa process in Mesopotamia A visa request and request for protection from the king. Why was the message so urgent?
A message to all the kings of Canaan, the subjects of my brother(the King of Egypt). 
Thus (says) the King (of Mitanni): 
I am sending herewith my messenger Akiya to the King of Egypt, my brother, on an urgent mission (traveling as fast) as a demon. Nobody must detain him. Bring him safely into Egypt! (There) they should take him to an Egyptian border official And nobody should for any reason lay hand on him.
A request for protection from the king. Who is Yanbamu and how can he be stopped from terrorising and blackmailing the people in the area? Again, the Shekel was initially a unit of weight before it became a type of currency.
Your Majesty should know of the deed which Yanbamu has done to me since I left Your Majesty’s presence. Now he demands of me 2,000 shekels of silver, saying: “Hand over to me your wife and your children or I will slay you!” The king should know about this deed. Would that Your Majesty dispatch here the chariotry and take me under his protection; otherwise, I am lost.
Asking for justice and pleading ignorance of dealings with brigands. What crime was this person accused of and why did Milkilu get away with no punishment? Who are these brigands and what were they doing working together with Dumuya?
I have heard the message that the king has sent me; who am I that the king should lose his land on account of me? If it pleases my lord, I am a loyal servant of the king and not disloyal or rebellious. Also, I do not withhold my tribute, nor do I withhold what the regent who is set over me demands of me. Really, people are slandering me; the damage has been done to me, yet Your Majesty has not investigated my (alleged) crime. If any, this, then, is my crime that I declared publicly when I entered the city of Gazri: “The king has taken away all I possess, but where are Milkilu’s possessions? Yet I know that Milkilu’s misdeed (is worse) than mine!” 
Now to another matter: As to the king’s writing to me about Dumuya: I did not know that Dumuya used to consort with the Hapiru-brigands; wouldn’t I have handed him over to Addaya (if I had known)?

Informing the king that they are doing their best to send a caravan but it's a dangerous undertaking. Why was his brother nearly killed? Why is sending a caravan dangerous?
If it pleases Your Majesty, I am the servant of the king: I have tried to have the caravans assembled by my brother but he was nearly slain, so the caravans for Your Majesty cannot possibly be dispatched. Do ask the regent whom you installed whether my brother was not nearly slain. On the other hand, please, all our eyes also my eyes are upon you; everywhere our lives are in your hands, whether we go up to heaven or descend into the netherworld. Now I am still trying to have assembled here by a friend of mine the caravans for Your Majesty. Your Majesty may be assured that I am serving the king and that I am doing my duty.

The sale of an administrative position. How did Kebsi get into debt? What are the benefits that come with holding this office? 
The text on the stele reports the sale of the office of governor of El-Kab from a man called Kebsi to a relative called Sobeknakht (Ancient Egyptian official of the Second Intermediate Period). It seems that Kebsi contracted a significant debt of 60 gold Deben ( one Deben was equal to about 91 g ) towards Sobeknakht and not having the possibility to pay.
Kebsi decided to sell his office to Sobeknakht who would become the new governor of El-Kab, with all the benefits that this charge entailed. 
All the documents necessary for the transaction were brought to the Vizier (Highest official in ancient Egypt to serve the pharaoh during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms) who checked Kebsi’s genealogy in order to confirm that he was indeed the heir of the office. 
The Vizier confirmed that Kebsi heard of the office of governor of El-Kab. The whole process was sealed in the Vizier’s quarters with the participation of witnesses, whereupon Sobeknakht received the rights to the office.

From: 3300-year-old Stele Reveals Well Drilling Event In Egypt’s Desert

The king orders a well to be dug so that workers can mine for gold in the inhospitable desert.
One fine day, His Majesty, who sat on the throne ( behedu ) of Electrum and appeared with the dried headband and the two feathers, began to think of the countries from which gold is brought and reflect on the purpose of drilling
wells on difficult roads due to (lack of) water, after hearing: “There is a lot of gold in the Akayta region, but its route is extremely difficult because of (the lack of water. If 
His Majesty then replied to these greats: “It’s absolutely right, whatever you say, my subjects. Water has not been extracted from this country since the time of the god, as you (they) say. I’m going to drill a well there to give water every day like in [Upper and Lower Egypt where the river flows (?)]
[… Sovereign, my lord…, everything happened in accordance with] what Your Majesty had said with his own mouth. Water came out twelve cubits, to a depth of four cubits
What do you think of these texts? Do they give you any ideas for scenarios and adventures? Do any of the situations in these texts surprise you? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Plant, Animal, Mineral and other Resources of Sundaland

Here are some tables listing various types of resources found in Sundaland. As usual I've compiled lists that you can roll on with common dice types: 1d10, 1d12 and 1d20.

Of course your game does not need to go into exhaustive detail about every fruit or vegetable type that can be found at the local market. But occasionally referencing something like the horrible smell of the Durian will greatly help in creating an interesting atmosphere distinct from the standard fantasy worlds and game experiences.

Food Staples

  1. Banana
  2. Banteng
  3. Fish
  4. Game like deer, tapir.
  5. Jungle fowl
  6. Lotus root
  7. Sago
  8. Taro
  9. Wild pig (see pig types below)
  10. Yam

Mineral Resources

  1. Gold
  2. Silver
  3. Copper
  4. Tin
  5. Lead
  6. Iron
  7. Mercury
  8. Jade
  9. Obsidian
  10. Stone for sculpture or masonry e.g. Marble

Plant Resources

  1. Areca Nut (Psychoactive)
  2. Betel
  3. Candlenut
  4. Cinnamon
  5. Clove
  6. Eucalyptus
  7. Ginger
  8. Kencur
  9. Lengkuas
  10. Long Pepper
  11. Mace
  12. Nutmeg
  13. Sugarcane
  14. Piper Cubeba
  15. Turmeric
  16. Nypa (Alcohol)
  17. Lotus
  18. Liquorice
  19. Coconut
  20. Mushrooms
  1. Elephants
  2. Feathers
  3. Hides
  4. Ivory
  5. Oils (derived from nuts, plants and animals)
  6. Palm wine and other alcoholic drinks.
  7. Pearls
  8. Precious stones
  9. Salt
  10. Whale products
Wild Pigs

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Population: Cities, Town and Villages in Sundaland

I've created a very basic model for calculating the number of cities and population numbers for the Sundaland subcontinent. I've calculated five sets of numbers which will be a useful starting point for a range of time periods or scenarios. My intention is only to arrive at figures that feel right to me. If you have any suggestions let me know.

From what I've read the first cities in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mexico* had populations numbering in the tens of thousands from around 30,000 to 80,000. So I'm picking 50,000 as the size of the biggest cities in a low population scenario or time. The biggest cities during a Classical Age type of development is 1,000,000 equivalent to ancient Rome and Alexandria at the height of the Roman Empire.

I'm imagining one city for each of the big river systems, South, East and West and one for the big inland sea, so four in total. The definition of a city in this model is loose because I take a lot of inspiration from the Maya and Khmer.

To calculate the number I've used the following rule. For each tier of settlement below the biggest city I double the number and halve the population, rounding up to whole numbers. I do this down to around 100 people which corresponds roughly to Dunbar's Number. So if there are 4 cities with an average population of 50,000 then there are 8 cities with 25,000 inhabitants, 16 with 12,500 inhabitants etc.

Depending on the characteristics of the culture and where it's located these numbers might be for a compact city or town, a spread out settlement or even a roaming band of hunter-gatherers.

*Recent research indicates that civilisations in rain forests were able to sustain larger populations than previously thought. See further below for some research about these fascinating urban environments.

Population Size Number Total
50,000 4 200,000
25,000 8 200,000
12,500 16 200,000
6,250 32 200,000
3,125 64 200,000
1,563 128 200,000
781 256 200,000
391 512 200,000
195 1024 200,000
98 2048 200,000
- - -
- - 2,000,000

Population Size Number Total
100,000 4 400,000
50,000 8 400,000
25,000 16 400,000
12,500 32 400,000
6,250 64 400,000
3,125 128 400,000
1,563 256 400,000
781 512 400,000
391 1,024 400,000
195 2,048 400,000
98 4,096 400,000
- - -
- - 4,400,000

Population Number Total
250,000 4 1,000,000
125,000 8 1,000,000
62,500 16 1,000,000
31,250 32 1,000,000
15,625 64 1,000,000
7,813 128 1,000,000
3,906 256 1,000,000
1,953 512 1,000,000
977 1024 1,000,000
488 2048 1,000,000
244 8192 1,000,000
244 4096 1,000,000
122 8,192 1,000,000
- - -
- - 12,000,000

Population  Number Total
500,000 4 2,000,000
250,000 8 2,000,000
125,000 16 2,000,000
62,500 32 2,000,000
31,250 64 2,000,000
15,625 128 2,000,000
7,813 256 2,000,000
3,906 512 2,000,000
1,953 1,024 2,000,000
977 2,048 2,000,000
488 4,096 2,000,000
244 8,192 2,000,000
122 16384 2,000,000
- - -
- - 26,000,000

Population Number Total
1,000,000 4 4,000,000
500,000 8 4,000,000
250,500 16 4,000,000
125,000 32 4,000,000
62,500 64 4,000,000
31,250 128 4,000,000
15,25 256 4,000,000
7,813 512 4,000,000
3,906 1024 4,000,000
1,953 2048 4,000,000
977 4,096 4,000,000
488 8,192 4,000,000
244 16,348 4,000,000
122 32,768 4,000,000
- - -
- - 56,000,000

Large urban communities in rainforest environments

Recent findings in Mexico and Cambodia indicate that the population that could be sustained in these jungle environments was higher than initially thought (at least for a while). It seems that there once existed sprawling urban communities within the forests. While I'm sure large areas were cleared it is nevertheless an evocative idea that contrasts with the common idea of what a city looks like. The articles linked are short but are great for stimulating the imagination. They also discuss the reasons these civilisations might have collapsed.
In what's being hailed as a 'major breakthrough' in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.
Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya "Megalopolis" Below Guatemalan Jungle

It also seems that there was more warfare happening amongst the Maya than was initially thought.
Archaeologists guided by laser images of a remote region of northern Guatemala have discovered 20-foot-high walls, watchtowers, and other evidence that ancient Maya societies waged large-scale warfare over many years. The finds have upended long-established impressions of a civilisation that tamed the jungle and built thriving cities, then declined and disappeared beneath the dense tropical forest.
Lasers reveal Maya war ruins

More Articles

Articles about the city around Angkor Watt in Cambodia which had a sophisticated water management system using canals and artificial ponds and lakes.

Angkor was a city ahead of its time
Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

An article about Maya ruins uncovered by LIDAR that contains some great images:
How Lasers Are Utterly Transforming Our Understanding of the Ancient Maya, Bringing Their Whole Civilization Back to Light

Mayan Mysteries: Discusses possible reasons for the collapse of the cities including deforestation and drought.

Monday, December 30, 2019

City Generation Tables

The city walls were as tall as four men and as thick as three, with guards and lookouts posted at intervals all along the top. The main entrance gate had two large doors covered with polished sheets of bronze, cast with the forms of the 12 tigers. Inside the walls the buildings seemed much like others of the area, tightly packed mud brick dwellings built in a continuous complex with only the occasional alley or street between them. But curiously none of them could be entered from the ground level, the only entrance being hatches on the roof. This meant that intruders could be delayed by pulling up the ladders that led to the top. Even the citadel of the elder council was accessible only by large wooden staircases that could be removed when necessary.
- An Account of Tanah Sunda by Rishasingra 

Here are some tables to help generate the details of a city or for when you need a random location.

City Areas

Common labourers, artisans, merchants and bureaucrats will account for the majority of the population and take up the largest area. The foreigners and slave areas might in some cases be located outside of the main city walls. Some cities will have inhabitants from different groups living amongst each other while others will have them strictly separated.
  1. Foreigners travellers, merchants and mercenaries.
  2. Common labourers and enslaved people.
  3. Artisans, merchants and bureaucrats.
  4. Warriors, soldiers, guards.
  5. Religious caste.
  6. Nobles or Elites.
City Features

Use this table to identify a particular location. Some cities will have all of these features, some will only have several, some will have multiples of a single type.
  1. Fort or walls.
  2. Market
  3. Temple
  4. Plaza
  5. Storage building.
  6. Residential building.
  7. Workshop
  8. Flower garden.
  9. Palace
  10. Aquaduct or fountain.
  11. Harbour
  12. Vegetable or fruit garden.
  13. Animal enclosure.
  14. Watch tower or lighthouse.
  15. Public bath and sauna.
  16. School, academy or training facility.
  17. Open air theatre or arena.
  18. Barracks
  19. Prison
  20. Catacombs, underground complex or tunnels.
Type of Residential Buildings

The typical residential buildings for commoners.
  1. Wooden houses sometimes raised on earthworks or stilts.
  2. Round or oval buildings with wooden or thatched roof and a low stone wall or base.
  3. Tightly packed mud brick buildings.
  4. Carved into the rock, either above or underground.
  5. A single continuous interconnected complex made from stone or mud bricks.
  6. On stilts along rivers or in the water.
Unusual Features
  1. Extensive waterways.
  2. Entry to buildings through the roof.
  3. Causeways or raised walkways.
  4. Necropolis within the city walls.
  5. Terraced city.
  6. Extensively planned city layout.
Features Outside the City
  1. Nearby quarry or mine.
  2. Farm or garden terraces.
  3. Ancient megalith site.
  4. Numerous or especially large cenotes.
  5. Large waterfalls.
  6. Independent religious community.
City Scenarios
  1. Hidden tunnels are revealed.
  2. A new cult is spreading.
  3. A rebellious faction is growing in power and influence.
  4. A slave or commoner revolt is on the verge of breaking out.
  5. Critical infrastructure such as walls, roads, ditches or terraces are neglected and in disrepair.
  6. A prominent person is assassinated.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Monsoons and Typhoons in Sundaland

When the winds shift and the rains start to fall the people of Sundaland celebrate the nourishment it brings to the land. They give thanks and offerings to their gods and enjoy festivities with their families. The weeks and months ahead will result in a bounty that is a reward for hard work and preparations made during the rest of the year.
- An Account of Tanah Sunda by Rishasingra 
Monsoon Rains

Unlike Europe and North America the area of Sundaland does not experience four distinct seasons. Instead there are two Monsoon seasons, broadly speaking a warm and wet season and a cool and dry season, with some local variations in timing. The point is that the cycle of dry and wet seasons will be an important influence on the local culture as it is today where there are special festivities to celebrate the coming of the rains. These alternating seasons could be an influence on religion, festivities, ease of travel and war opportunities.

The monsoon rains are driven by prevailing winds which alternate in origin from the Southeast and Northwest directions with a curvature at the equator due to the coriolis force. As I mentioned there are local variations in terms of timing so I won't go into too much detail here. I've linked to climate pages for each of the countries in the region which will help you get an overall picture of the weather.  Remember that the average temperature of the planet was a couple of  degrees cooler during the last Ice Age and that it was dryer compared to now since more water was locked up in ice sheets. This means that rainy seasons are even more important than normal to the people of the central Sundaland plains.

I suggest you do a search for the area name plus 'climate' or 'monsoon' if you want more details. The climate of the central plain of Sundaland will fall somewhere in between the relevant landmasses.

North Australia
Papua New Guinea
North Vietnam
South Vietnam
Southern China

Read more about the Malaysian-Australian Monsoon.


A typhoon is a tropical storm that develops in the Pacific Ocean and moves towards the west. The wind speed must be greater than 119 km ph / 74 mph for a tropical storm to be categorised as a typhoon. Peak months for typhoons are from May to October but they can occur throughout the year.

The areas most affected by typhoons are where the modern day countries of the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong exist.

Besides the high winds other features of typhoons include tidal surges along the coasts and landslides in hill areas.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Real History: 44,000 year old cave painting found in Sulawesi

The cave art found in Sulawesi depicts several Anoa, warty pigs and animal-human hybrids. It is thought to be twice as old as the previously known oldest cave art found in Europe.

Read the full BBC article here: Sulawesi art: Animal painting found in cave is 44,000 years old